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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Gary Mann, Southern Polytechnic State University

September 1, 2010


Gary Mann, Director of Financial Aid & Scholarships at Southern Polytechnic State University, and Kristi Jones, Southern Regional Director for Nelnet Partner Solutions

Kristi Jones: How many people are on your team?

Gary Mann: Currently, eight; seven [staff members] and one open position that we are in the process of filling.

Kristi : How’s enrollment?

Gary: The student body is about 5500 and enrollment is growing. We are primarily an engineering school. There are lots of people coming back to school, so we’re seeing a little bit of an older population instead of the traditional population we used to have.

Kristi: Is engineering the biggest major?

Gary: We have all the different categories of engineering.  The architecture program is also growing.

Kristi: Prior to joining Southern Polytechnic State University, you and I were on the same team at Nelnet. At what other schools were you employed prior to joining Nelnet?

Gary: I was the Director of Financial Aid at DeKalb Technical College, a client administrator at Georgia Student Finance Commission, the Director of Financial Aid at Mercer University, and I was a financial aid counselor at Roanoke College, all prior to becoming a Vice President at Nelnet.

Jim Harris: [Happened to pop in while Kristi was talking with Gary.] Wow, so you really can’t keep a job.

Gary: Or an attention span. [Jim has personal experience with that issue as well.]

Kristi: What is the biggest challenge your office is currently facing? What is the big project you are all working on right now?

Gary: The biggest one would be the conversion to Direct Lending. It’s something that’s been mandated and is time consuming, but we’ll get it done.

Kristi: Is there any site that has been particularly helpful, or anything else that you’re doing to help with Direct Lending?

Gary: I think, so far, the most helpful resource  in the conversion process has been my other colleagues… not reinventing the wheel but getting the set ups needed–the computer specs needed–from other schools that have just recently done it, and my colleagues have risen to the challenge every single time.

Kristi: What about year-round Pell?

Gary: It’s kind of a non-issue for this first summer. If you write your policy in such a way that you just award the Pell, this first one is a non-issue. It is next summer that will be much more of an issue based on grade progression. I think many of us are just hoping that by that time our software providers will have figured that out.

Kristi: What are the trends you’re seeing with students? I think you already talked about this a little bit, that you’re seeing an older population coming in.

Gary: I’m seeing a very high level of debt. For the most part they get very good jobs, because it’s an engineering and architecture school, but it’s still a high level of debt. I’m seeing default rates rise consistently. They’re going up from year to year to year. I think that’s going to be a major problem with students who don’t consolidate, because right now you have one lender when we were FFELP, and now some of those FFELP lenders have left the business, so you may have had another FFELP lender just for maybe one term, and then you’re going to have a Direct Loan. So I think the promotion of consolidation, and getting people to do it, will be a huge challenge.

Kristi: What is your default rate? I would think you would have a pretty low one.

Gary: Two years ago it was 3%, then it was 5%, then 7%, and the projected 3-year calculation puts it at 8.5%; still very respectable, but that’s a big trend.

Kristi: So are you thinking about what you’re going to do to keep it low, like promoting consolidation?

Gary: Yeah, once we get Direct Lending up and running, I want to start semester financial literacy events on campus. We’re currently doing very little. In terms of exit counseling, it’s just electronic. I am requiring everyone to redo entrance counseling next year as a part of the conversion to Direct Lending. And we’re using Direct Lending online counseling, so they at least see something different from the past when we used Mapping Your Future. So they think it’s a requirement, when they sign a new Direct Lending prom note, they have to redo entrance counseling.

Kristi: What do you think you spend the majority of your day working on?

Gary:  Meetings with students, parents, and staff consume major portions of the day, and then just keeping track that all the processes are in place and moving forward.

Kristi: What do you like most about your job?

Gary: The constant change of doing something different on a regular basis, between seeing students, between going to meetings, between trying to get something in place, getting something in place that didn’t work.

Kristi: When you were growing up, did you dream about being a financial aid administrator?

Gary: Absolutely not. I got into this profession the standard way: I was a work-study student, and they hired me as part admissions, part financial aid. I’ve always made the joke that I must not have been very good in admissions, because they moved me to full-time financial aid.

Jim: Or maybe you were that good they promoted you.

Kristi: What’s you’re favorite movie?

Gary: Probably Arthur.  No matter how many times I watch it, it can always make me laugh.

Kristi:  What is your favorite book?

Gary: Probably The Monarch of Key West or Highlands-A-Go-Go. They’re both new novels from an author in the Atlanta area.

Kristi: Do you have any hidden talents?

Gary: Can’t think of any.

Kristi: Do you have any hobbies?

Gary: I enjoy training for races.  I ran the Peachtree Road Race, which is a 10k in the Atlanta area, on 4th of July.  This was my 20th anniversary of running it every single year in a row.

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